Nearly a decade of working for Kaiser Permanente and I have had dealt with bullying bosses, deceitful chiefs, and incompetent HR people.
KP is a massive organization and that might be why it runs the way it does. They also pay their physicians top market rates which means they attract a certain type of employee.
For the past 6 months, since August 2016, I have been going back and forth with HR to resolve a large paycheck matter worth about $21,000.
It all began during my exit interview when I went from part-time to per diem at Kaiser Permanente. In the end, I won and got all the money owed to me but only because I kept meticulous records and kept fighting.
Large Medical Group HR
Large medical groups generally do all of their own payroll and have only a handful of individuals in charge of communicating with the doctors regarding benefits.
The HR department relies on the schedulers to correctly code each employee’s hours. Come paycheck time, the summary is pulled off and the check is cut.
HR Self Audits
A payroll audit is done once a quarter. Random physicians are chosen and their hours-worked and wages-paid are compared manually and any discrepancy resolved.
In the past 7 years that I have been employed by Kaiser Permanente, I have never once got an email saying that I was overpaid. There was one time when they found a 4-hour overpay, mistakenly paid out due to schedulers putting in wrong information.
Was I aware of it? Maybe.
Also, in these past 7 years, I was shorted pay several times a year. In the first 5 years working for SCPMG, every other paycheck had some sort of error.
I always caught this and got paid because I keep more meticulous work records than my HR department, apparently.
I can’t call this an error or oversight since an error would indicate some random order of events. Errors would involve overpay and underpay. When you are always shorted on your paycheck it’s called something else.
The Exit Interview
I wanted to leave my job back in August of 2016 and decided to slowly ramp down instead of quitting completely.
I was getting paychecks coded at full-time when, in fact, I was only working 20-hour weeks, on average.
The paychecks continued at a full-time pay and I set the money aside, knowing that eventually, they would ask for the money back. I had numerous back-and-forth emails with HR, letting them know that they needed to stop over-paying me.
Sometime in November – 3 months later – they finally figured out that their mistakes. Instead of telling me to pay back the over-pay and paying me my regular income, they decided to stop paying me altogether.
There are some well-established laws regarding this, as my own research showed, and I think HR also realized that they had made a big boo-boo.
They sent me an email saying that I owed them a little over $21,000 for the excess pay and I needed to pay it so that they could resume paying me my normal wages.
You cannot withhold wages from your employees, no matter what. Even if you overpaid them, you must continue to pay them for services rendered, and figure out a way for the repayment process of overages separately.
One of the main reasons for this is that interruption in pay is reported to social security and could affect your benefits down the road.
Furthermore, when you don’t get paid it might indicate that you’re not employed which might risk your disability benefits.
Negotiating with Kaiser HR
I didn’t owe anywhere close to $21,000, so, after a few more back and forths, I wasn’t able to make the HR person understand why he was wrong. In the meantime, I was still working here and there, and I hadn’t received an actual paycheck for nearly 4 months.
As with all things, sometimes drastic measures are necessary. I called my chief, told him that I wasn’t going to be picking up any more shifts until KP could resolve this matter.
My chief, being the awesome guy that he is, stepped in and got a really bright woman in HR involved, Deborah. She set up a conference call for all the parties involved and we made some progress. Shortly after that call, I get an email that I only owe $12,000, not $21,000.
Over the past year Kaiser had changed their paycheck reporting software. I could no longer access my old paychecks.
Fortunately, I take screenshots of all my paychecks and record every value in a spreadsheet. I haven’t missed a single paycheck.
I was assured that KP had records of my old paychecks. And that HR had reviewed them and for some reason their records differed from mine even after their audit.
Keep Your Income Records
I keep detailed spreadsheets of every paycheck I get. I log the hours I work and I enter them in my Google Calendar.
Yes, I realize that’s tedious, but by doing so, it forces me to ask and understand what each number is on my paycheck.
Over the years, HR has tried to erroneously explain to me what a particular number or acronym means on my paycheck. It was only my own detailed record keeping which helped me figure it out.
It took me about 4.5 hours over 2 days to get it all figured out. My math showed that I didn’t owe $21,000 but that they owed me $2,000.
I sent a very detailed email which included all the hours worked, all my admin time, every paycheck I received and showed why I was correct and why their math was way off.
After a few more rounds of emails, with me telling them why their math was incorrect and exactly why the reports they were printing from the software were flawed, we reached a final number.
Today I received the email that after they reviewed the numbers which I provided and comparing them to what their HR software had recorded, they did actually owe me money.
I’m not exactly sure what that number will be, after taxes probably somewhere in the +$2,000 range, close to my guesstimate and way off their -$21,000 number.
Return on Investment
I have spent a lot of time entering paycheck information into spreadsheets over the years. But it has become easy to do and I have a good system going. Looking back, the investment paid off.
I have recovered quite a lot of hours of unpaid work over the past 7 years, not even counting this $21,000.
Furthermore, my record keeping has helped me understand my paychecks better.
Dissect Your Paycheck
I encourage you to not just assume that you understand what your paycheck means, investigate each and every number you see.
Your paycheck is intentionally vague and confusing, no doubt about that.
I’m not a pessimist or conspiracy theorist. There simply is no need to report numbers so vaguely on a paycheck.
Many companies such as Gusto are taking the guessing game and vague descriptions out and replacing that shitty wording with comprehensive spoken English. Savvy employees demand it.
Also, don’t think HR or the benefits department knows anything more than you do. If they can’t explain it to you quite clearly then they don’t understand it and are likely feeding you wrong information.